Ableton Live Operator

This flagship synth is not new to Ableton Live but it seems to be one of the best for creative output and a lot of fun when designing new FM sounds for production.

I have sourced various videos and tutorials from the web and collated them here in this post for quick and easy access so you can learn the basics of F.M synthesis.

Operator has 4 oscillators know as operators simply put they are algorithms in the digital realm generating sounds including sine waves and saw waves to name but a few. These sounds are visual in operator based on the root sine wave and harmonics changing the sounds to other waveforms such as square waves.

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 11.58.51

As seen here a single sine wave with no harmonics (pure tone) ideal for sub bass.

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Here you can see the root sine wave (fundamental) plus 2 harmonics create a square wave.

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You can see here in the EQ 8 the root and 2 harmonics make the basic square wave.

Each operator (oscillator) has its own amplitude envelope and this is unique to F.M synthesis. Due to the way operator works you can use it as a subtractive, additive and F.M synth depending on the layout of the operators as seen below.

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 12.08.17

Due to the options, you have of multi-synthesis you can begin with the all-carrier algorithm as I have set above, this allows you to work with Operator as a subtractive synth before moving on to F.M and additive.

Daniel Dehaan goes much further into depth with Operator and explains the synthesis, a must watch for those who want to explore more about F.M and additive synthesis.


Here is a quick way to correlate the parameters of FM and subtractive synthesis when using a single FM oscillator pair.

Carrier Coarse Tuning: Overall pitch.
Carrier Level: Volume
Carrier Envelope: Amp Envelope
Modulator Coarse Tuning: Waveshape (e.g. the resulting timbre after FM is applied)
Modulator Level: Filter Cutoff
Modulator Envelope: Filter Envelope

John Selway of Dubspot explains here the techno fundamentals of using Operator for techno productions.


Looping is fantastic for creating complex, rhythmic textures that would be difficult to duplicate in most other softsynths. Fortunately, the principle is straightforward: When looping is turned on, the envelope repeats the attack-decay section as long as the note is held. Adjusting those segments allows for custom LFO-like results or repeating percussive patterns. Depending on which envelopes are looped, you can affect either volume (carrier) or timbral (modulator) elements.

Screen Shot 2018-10-01 at 12.20.59

As you can see here I have set the first operator to loop in the loop drop-down menu and automated the attack in the envelope with a max for live LFO generating a rhythmic sound.

Check out these videos for reference to Ableton Live Operator

Looping envelopes can be a creative way to make unique sounds try it out with this tutorial below

I will continue adding to this post as I find more interesting information and videos on Ableton Operator but for now, have fun with F.M and start making the most of Ableton Live’s super synth.



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